Advocates of a $15 minimum wage pleaded their case to Philadelphia City Council Wednesday, hoping to lay the groundwork for a challenge to a state law that bars municipalities from setting minimum wages.
"Most of Philadelphia is in a state of emergency," the Rev. Gregory Holston testified before Council and about 100 supporters who filled the gallery. "If we're going to really address the poverty we're facing, all of us, leaders in government and City Council leaders and the mayor and anybody who wants to be mayor, have to address the issue."
Wednesday's hearing came one day after Gov. Wolf in his budget address urged the legislature to raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. Advocates here want Harrisburg to go further and also strike down the state law that bans municipalities from setting minimum wages.
Without that, any effort by Council to raise the hourly minimum is sure to be challenged in court - a fight the city's Law Department thinks would be unsuccessful, according to Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. Johnson had said he would consider introducing minimum-wage legislation if the Law Department thought it was feasible.
"We're still considering it, regardless of their position," Johnson said. "But we want to continue advocating on a state level."
Kate Goodman, an organizer for $15 Now, the main group pushing for the wage hike, said the Law Department's conclusion was not discouraging. She said a potential challenge to the state's preemption is far off, and for now the group wants Council to pass a resolution symbolically supporting a $15 rate and urging Harrisburg to do away with the law.
"We are going to have to build to the point where City Council is willing to introduce the law to challenge preemption," she said.
Council candidates Sherri Cohen and Isaiah Thomas both have said they back a $15 minimum wage. Cohen testified Wednesday, calling the minimum wage preemption one area where the city needs to "end state control over Philadelphia."
In the audience were dozens of workers, some who testified of their own struggles to make a living on minimum wage.
"My daughter asks to go to Chuck E. Cheese and I have to say to her no, because I can't afford it," said Raphael Curtis, 24, a fast-food worker. "Do you know what that feels like, to feel inadequate as a father? It's not fair. But it's not my fault."
Joe Grace, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's director of public policy, declined to comment on the possibility of a $15 minimum wage Wednesday, saying the group is focusing on Wolf's proposal to raise the state rate.